How Is HIV Transmitted?

AIDS is a chronic and often life threatening condition that is the result of damage to the immune system by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV interferes with the body’s mechanisms that are used to fight off harmful organisms which cause illness. Currently there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but some medications can help prevent the disease from progressing as quickly. The administration of these drugs has helped to reduce deaths from AIDS but HIV continues to be a serious problem for parts of Asia, Haiti and Africa among others. Know how HIV is transmitted can help avoid being infected with this terrible disease.

How Is HIV Transmitted?

When vaginal secretions, semen or blood infected with HIV enter the body it can spread the disease. Contact such as dancing, hugging, kissing or shaking hands will not spread HIV, nor can it be spread through water, the air or insect bites.

You can become infected with HIV in several ways, including:

1. Having Sex

Having oral, anal or vaginal sex with someone who is infected with HIV/AIDS can spread the disease if their vaginal secretions, blood or semen enter your body. The virus can enter the body through small tears in the vagina or rectum caused by sexual activity or sores in the mouth. Those receiving oral sex can spread the disease if the vaginal fluid, semen or blood enters their partner’s mouth.

2. Blood Transfusions

Blood transfusions can spread the HIV virus in some cases. American blood banks and hospitals scan all blood donations for HIV antibodies to reduce this risk.

3. Sharing Needles

Needles or syringes that are contaminated with blood that is infected with HIV antibodies can spread the disease if these needles are used by others. Sharing drug paraphernalia can seriously increase your risk of contracting HIV and other diseases including hepatitis.

4. From Mother to Child

If a mother is infected with HIV during their pregnancy, delivery or while they are breastfeeding they may pass the disease to their child. You can decrease this risk by treating an HIV infection during pregnancy.

Bodily Fluids that Transmit HIV

HIV does not spread through the air like other viruses such as the ones which cause the flu or the common cold. Instead HIV lives in bodily fluids and the bloodstream so the only way to spread the virus is by coming into contact with these materials. Bodily fluids that hold enough HIV to spread the infection include:

  • Breast milk
  • Vaginal fluids or menstrual blood
  • Semen
  • Blood
  • Lining of the anus

The main ways HIV spreads into your bloodstream are:

  • The thin lining on the inside of the vagina or anus
  • The thin lining of the eyes and mouth

Other bodily fluids including urine, saliva or sweat contain HIV but not enough to spread the infection.

You cannot catch HIV from an infected person from:

  • Being sneezed on
  • Contact with healthy, unbroken skin
  • Spitting
  • Sharing cutlery, baths or towels
  • Mouth to mouth resuscitation
  • Using the same swimming pool or toilet
  • Contact with insects or animals like mosquitoes

Risk Factors of AIDS

When HIV/AIDS was first discovered in the United States population it mainly affected homosexual men but it has since been discovered that heterosexual sex spreads HIV. Any sex, age, race or sexual orientation is at risk for developing HIV/AIDS, but you have an increased risk if you:

  • Have other STIs. Many STIs cause you to develop open sores on the genitals that can act as a doorway for HIV.
  • Have unprotected sex, which means having sex without the use of polyurethane or latex condoms. Anal sex poses more of a risk than vaginal sex and this risk further increases if you have multiple partners.
  • Use intravenous drugs. Most who use these substances share syringes and needles which could expose them to other people’s blood.
  • Are an uncircumcised man. Studies indicate that failing to get circumcised increases heterosexual transmission of the HIV virus.

How to Prevent HIV Infection

There is no vaccine for HIV and no cure for AIDS but you can protect others and yourself from infection. Educating yourself about HIV and avoiding risky behaviors that would put you in contact with breast milk, semen, blood and vaginal secretions can reduce the risk of spreading the disease. To help prevent spreading HIV:

1. Use Condom

If you do not know your HIV status or that of your partner you should use a condom every time you have vaginal or anal sex. This includes female condoms for women. Limit your lubricant use to those that are water based as those with an oil base which increase the risk of the condom breaking. A dental dam— a piece of medical-grade latex, or condom can be used during oral sex.

2. Tell Your Sexual Partners

If you know you are HIV-positive you should tell any sexual partners that you may have or have been with in the past. Your past sexual partners should have their HIV status checked to ensure that they do not unknowingly pass the virus to others.

3. Consider Truvada

The FDA approved Turvada in July 2012 as a means of reducing the transmission of HIV in high risk patients. This is usually taken along with other HIV medication as there are some risks involved in its use. You should only use Truvada if your doctor has approved it and you do not already have hepatitis B or HIV. Take this drug daily as prescribed and continue using other protective methods including condoms when you have sex.

4. Use Clean Needle

If you use drugs that are injected with a needle, do not share it and ensure the needle is sterile before use. Many communities offer needle exchange programs and drug assistance to reduce this risk.

5. Consider Circumcision

Evidence has suggested that undergoing male circumcision can greatly reduce your risk for contracting HIV.

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